What is “Field Archery”?

When most people think of archery they probably imagine a group of white- or green-clad archers standing in a line, shooting arrows together at round targets with multi-coloured concentric circles, the whole process taking place on an immaculately mown stretch of grass. This is Target Archery and can trace its origins back to the English Medieval requirement for all men and boys over a certain age to spend their Sunday afternoons on the village green, practising with bows and arrows in preparation for some war when they would send their arrows in the general direction of charging enemy cavalry, usually, but not always, French knights.

Field Archery has much more ancient origins in the simple practice of hunting game for the pot. The modern sport seeks to reproduce that experience as closely as possible but without the use of live animals as targets. In the UK it is illegal to hunt and kill animals with a bow and arrow, unlike other countries, such as the USA. Instead of live animals we use targets, either pictures of animals on paper (known as ‘2Ds’ or paper faces), or rubber compound models of animals, realistically coloured (‘3Ds’).

A typical 3D target:


The number of targets in a field archery shoot can vary in number but is usually 36 or 40, shot in a single round. If the club’s “Shooting Ground” is not very big then the number of targets may be 18 or 20, which are all then shot twice in two rounds. A continuous route is planned through woodland, fields, moors or mountainside on the club’s “Shooting Ground” and the targets are spaced around the route to form a course.

The example below has a trefoil arrangement which takes the archer past the tea tent three times:


The targets are placed so as to make the challenge of shooting at them as realistic as possible. They may be partially hidden behind trees, bushes or grass, and often placed in shade. Some shots may be on the flat, while others may require the archer to shoot up- or down-hill. If the club is lucky enough to have a pond, lake or river in their grounds then this will be used to provide a really challenging shot.

Each target is numbered and is shot at from coloured or marked pegs. The distances of the pegs from the target is unknown to the archer thus testing his/her skill at judging distances, something which an ancient hunter would have had to be good at if his family were not to go hungry.

Archers shoot the course in groups of up to six, each group starting the course at a different target and working their way around the course in numerical order. Each archer is allowed to shoot up to three arrows at each target in an attempt to hit it and score points, with each arrow being shot from a different peg. The first peg is usually, but not always, the furthest from the target, with the remaining pegs placed at increasingly closer distances. The pegs in order are “Red”, “White”, “Blue”, “Yellow” and “Orange”. A further peg, “Silver” or “Wasp”, may be used as the first peg for archers shooting bows with sights. If the distance to the target is very short then some or all of the pegs may be grouped together.

The particular pegs used by an archer will depend on either the style of bow that they are using or their age. For example, an adult archer using a compound bow with all the trimmings may shoot from the “Silver”, “Red” and “White” pegs while an adult archer using a longbow will shoot from the “Red”, “White” and “Blue” pegs. The youngest archers, those less than nine years old, no matter what their bowstyle, will shoot all of their arrows from the “Orange” peg.

If the archer hits the target with their first arrow shot from their first peg then their “go” is finished. If they miss they then shoot their second arrow from the second peg. If that hits the target, again their “go” is over. If they also miss that shot they then shoot their final arrow from the third peg.

There are different methods of scoring but the one used by KLFA and many other clubs that are part of the National Field Archery Society (NFAS) is known as “Big Game Hunting”. Each target has three scoring zones: the “Inner Kill”, the “Kill” and the “Wound” (usually the rest of the animal, though horns, hooves and bases count as misses!) – see the picture below. The “Inner Kill” and “Kill” are marked on 2Ds by a black line and on 3Ds by an engraved line.

If the first arrow shot hits the target, it scores as follows:

  • hitting the “Inner Kill” scores 24 points
  • hitting the “Kill” scores 20 points
  • hitting the “Wound” area scores 16 points.

If the second arrow has to be shot, it scores:

  • 14 points for a “Kill” (including the “Inner Kill”)
  • 10 points for a “Wound”.

If it comes down to shooting the third arrow, this scores:

  • 8 points for a “Kill” (including the “Inner Kill”)
  • 4 points for a “Wound”.

Notice that the “Inner Kill” is counted as an additional scoring area for the first arrow only.

See if you can work out how many points this arrow scores if it was a) the first, b) the second and c) the third arrow shot*:


When the whole group has finished shooting the target they record their scores, retrieve their arrows and move on to the next one. When all the targets have been shot the scores are totalled. In a competition, prizes, usually medals or some other trophy, are awarded to the highest-scoring archers.

Under NFAS Rules there are eleven different bow-styles which can be shot by six different categories of archer depending on their gender and age. That makes a total of sixty-six different categories which, depending on the number of archers on the day, may have awards for first, second and third places, though it is very rare for any club to have to give out all 198 medals!

The eleven bowstyles are:

  • American Flatbow (AFB).
  • Barebow (BB).
  • Bowhunter (BH).
  • Compound Limited (CL).
  • Crossbow (XB).
  • Freestyle (FS).
  • Hunting Tackle (HT).
  • Longbow (LB).
  • Primitive (PV).
  • Traditional Bowhunter (TB).
  • Unlimited (UL).

Full details about the equipment used for each of these bow-styles can be found on the NFAS website under “Rules”.

The six age/gender categories are: Gents, Ladies, Junior Boys, Junior Girls, Cub Boys and Cub Girls.

The pegs used are:

  • Adults (16 and over): Red, White, Blue.
  • Juniors (14/15): White, Blue, Blue.
  • Juniors (12/13): Blue, Yellow, Yellow.
  • Cubs (under 12): Yellow, Yellow, Yellow.
  • Cubs (under 9): Orange, Orange, Orange.

There are two main forms of competition shoots. The first, the “Club Shoot” is organised for the benefit of the members of a particular Field Archery club. The second is the “Open Shoot” where a club lays on a shoot for visiting archers from other clubs. For Open Shoots the host club charges their visitors a shoot fee to take part, which provides the host club with much needed income. In addition, refreshments are usually available, taken at tea stops indicated during the course of the shoot, and there is invariably a raffle as well!

Open Shoots are a great opportunity for archers from different clubs to meet, chat, shoot together and generally have a fun day out. Many archers find that shooting in such a social environment is far more rewarding than simply winning a medal.

Going one step further, one of the best experiences you can have as a field archer is taking part in a National competition! The NFAS has two National competitions each year; the 3D Nationals (exclusively 3D targets) in May, and the National Championships (a mix of 2Ds and 3Ds) in September. Each championship attracts around 600 archers, shooting over two days in beautiful and exclusive woodland – what’s not to like?!

*a) 24, b) 14, c) 8